Friday, August 17, 2012


Ghosts of Bygone Meals

A philosopher writes:
One who lives to eat is almost as ridiculous as one who drives a car to pump gas into its tank. In both cases a vehicle; in both cases fuel; in both cases means-end confusion.
I plead guilty to means-end confusion. I live to eat. I recognize a kindred spirit in that Philoxenus described by Aristotle, Eudemian Ethics, 3.2.12 (1231a), who wished for a long gullet like a crane, the better to savor his food. In philosophy, my master is Epicurus. I see a reflection of myself in this description of a custom house inspector, from Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter:
His gourmandism was a highly agreeable trait; and to hear him talk of roast meat was as appetizing as a pickle or an oyster. As he possessed no higher attribute, and neither sacrificed nor vitiated any spiritual endowment by devoting all his energies and ingenuities to subserve the delight and profit of his maw, it always pleased and satisfied me to hear him expatiate on fish, poultry, and butcher's meat, and the most eligible methods of preparing them for the table. His reminiscences of good cheer, however ancient the date of the actual banquet, seemed to bring the savour of pig or turkey under one's very nostrils. There were flavours on his palate that had lingered there not less than sixty or seventy years, and were still apparently as fresh as that of the mutton chop which he had just devoured for his breakfast. I have heard him smack his lips over dinners, every guest at which, except himself, had long been food for worms. It was marvellous to observe how the ghosts of bygone meals were continually rising up before him; not in anger or retribution, but as if grateful for his former appreciation, and seeking to reduplicate an endless series of enjoyment, at once shadowy and sensual: a tenderloin of beef, a hind-quarter of veal, a spare-rib of pork, a particular chicken, or a remarkably praiseworthy turkey, which had perhaps adorned his board in the days of the elder Adams, would be remembered; while all the subsequent experience of our race, and all the events that brightened or darkened his individual career, had gone over him with as little permanent effect as the passing breeze.

Luis Meléndez, Still Life with Bread, Ham, Cheese, and Vegetables

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